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Qantas Faces Backlash After Closing Manned Service Desks

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On Thursday, Qantas announced that it would be closing all of its staffed service desks at Australian airports, including those located in its lounges. The carrier is now facing backlash for a decision that will leave passengers at the mercy of check-in kiosks and call services in the case of flight disruptions.

Qantas-group-new-south-Wales-getty
Qantas has announced that it will close its staffed service desks across Australian airports. Photo: Getty Images

Airports may be less crowded than usual these days. However, with all the various test and face mask regimes, cancellations, and quarantine and entry requirements, flying and connecting may continue to feel more confusing and stressful than ever. So it is no wonder that people seem somewhat baffled by Qantas’ decision to close its staffed service desks at Australian airports

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– including those in its lounges.

Qantas says decision driven by customer preference

Qantas said it would implement the changes in the first half of 2021. This move will force travelers to use self-service kiosks, online services, or call centers to handle any issues that may arise while at the airport. The carrier will keep its staffed check-in counters but have less staff at lost baggage desks, which will operate reduced hours.

Colin Hughes, Qantas’ Executive Manager for Airports, told employees about the controversial decision in a memo yesterday, Thursday, November 5th, seen by Simple Flying. He explained it partly as a consequence of the customer trend towards preferring digital assistance, which had been accelerated due to the ongoing pandemic.

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Furthermore, the memo said Qantas was developing a low-contact environment at the airport to “enhance customer confidence in flying.” The carrier is also set to enhance its app with more functions, such as paying for oversized bags or change seats.

Qantas departure terminal at Melbourne
Customers will need to use self-service kiosks or call centers for assistance in case of flight disruptions. Photo: Getty Images

100 jobs to go

Mr Hughes further stated that the carrier would continue discussions with unions on what the decision would mean on a national level, with the next meeting scheduled for November 12th. The closure of the desks will result in 100 jobs lost, the first of the close to 6,000 that could go as a part of Qantas’ coronavirus recovery plan.

Qantas to shut airport service desks, force customers onto self-service https://t.co/YbSmp7nfR7 Qantas, this is not what I wanted to hear from you!

— Shifa Mustapha (@bintburton) November 6, 2020

While the job cuts are, of course, if not unexpected, highly regrettable, the move will also leave passengers with fewer options when encountering any flight disruption or last-minute changes to their itinerary.

One union representative predicts “chaos” during major flight disruptions and says older passengers will be particularly vulnerable. Photo: Getty Images

Union expects chaos

The Australian Services Union’s assistant national secretary Emeline Gaske told the Sydney Morning Herald that there would be “chaos” during severe weather events or other kinds of major disruptions. Furthermore, she emphasized it will be especially hard for those not as accustomed to using technology.

“Can you imagine when there’s a flight cancellation – people’s expectation is someone will re-book them, not that they’ll be given an iPad to sort it out themselves,” Ms Gaske told the media outlet. “And if your luggage is lost, you expect someone to go and look for it.”

Simple Flying has reached out to Qantas for a comment but was yet to receive one at the time of publication.

What do you make of Qantas’ decision to close its airport service desks? Do you think the airline could reverse it as a result of the backlash? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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